Twelve year Ellington resident Ellen Karadimas, the founder and chairperson of Ellington's Winterfest, was admittedly startled when she asked town officials who turned on the Christmas lights at the town's green each year.
“The last person on their way out for Thanksgiving break flips the switch on," was the answer.
That didn't seem right to Karadimas. With its quaint town center, Ellington needed a Norman Rockwell-like holiday celebration.
“[It needed] a hometown feel to it - a beautiful, New England, hometown feel -keep it focused on what the holidays are all about,” said Karadimas. “It's grown, but just a little each year to keep people interested.”
When she first met with town officials, including former First Selectman Dennis Milanovich and Director Peter Michaud to work out details, Karadimas envisioned a choir, Santa Claus and townspeople gathered on the green to witness the lights on the two decorated trees turned on.
“What it turned into - I couldn't believe how many people came on board,” she said. “I had a hunch the town wanted or needed it in some way. Organizations got on board. It just grew - I didn't have to ask people as much [to take part] as they contacted me.”
This year's Winterfest, organized by the Winterfest Committee - with town assistance - and now in its eighth year, attracts visitors from all over north central Connecticut. As promised, it will feature some new attractions to keep people interested.
A “petting zoo” will feature miniature donkeys, and zoo sponsor will be handing out special gift bags through a newly-garbed Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeer, also compliments of Express Verizon.
In addition, the , will stage an enhanced version of their “Live Nativity” drive-through, which they introduced just last year, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday. Also new to Winterfest, will hold a carol sing on Saturday from 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. As it has in the past, the church will also host a myriad of events on Saturday on church premises.
Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, will host a holiday ornament workshop. Reservations are required. In preparation of the 200th birthday of Nellie McKnight's home in 2012, the will open its doors starting at 2 p.m. to highlight Nellie's newly-restored bedroom as part of a public tour.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive at the town green at 4:30 p.m., and soon after their arrival, two young children, chosen from names submitted at the library, will help Santa illuminate the two Christmas trees on the green.
The excitement will ramp up, as the annual torchlight parade begins at 5:30 p.m.
“It's always been something I wanted to do,” said Captain Jack Rich II, parade co-chair. Rich grew up watching torchlight parades in surrounding towns, and when the idea of the Winterfest was discussed, he proposed adding the parade. It has been a Winterfest staple for eight years.
There will be approximately 10 fire departments taking part, including Ellington, , Vernon, Broad Brook, Manchester's Eighth Utilities District and Mansfield. The parade also includes school and town sports teams, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and Santa and Mrs. Claus, who this year, will be riding on a new float – an antique sleigh on loan from a Tolland resident.
While most of the festivities center on Saturday, some of the fun starts on Friday. At 7 p.m. on Friday, the Ellington Singers will descend upon Hall Memorial Library for a holiday sing-a-long, followed by holiday treats.
Karadimas credits a wonderful network of volunteers known as the Winterfest Committee - 13 strong - in helping make the annual tradition happen each year.
“They're so phenomenal - I trust them completely,” said Karadimas. “They're the greatest team I've ever worked with. It's a team effort - I couldn't do it without them.”
Friday, Dec. 2:
7-8 p.m. - Ellington Singers, Hall Memorial Library
Saturday, Dec. 3:
10 a.m.-1 p.m. - Holiday ornament workshop, Hall Memorial Library (reservations required)
12-7 p.m. - Public viewing of Gingerbread House Contest, Ellington Congregational Church
2-7 p.m. - Ellington Historical Society's Nellie McKnight Museum Open House/Book Signing
2:30-3:30 p.m. - Christmas Carol Sing, Ellington Congregational Church Sanctuary
4-6:30 p.m. - Informal dinner a la carte at Ellington Congregational Church
4-7 p.m. - Ellington Women's Club refreshments at
4 p.m. - Official Winterfest opening – Fourth grade chorus to sing on town green
4:15 p.m. - Frosty & Rudolph arrive; petting zoo opens
4:30 p.m. Santa & Mrs. Claus (& elf) arrive!
4:45 p.m. - Tree Lighting
4:55 p.m. - Church bells ringing from & Ellington Congregational churches
5-7 p.m. - “Festival of Trees Open House,” hosted by (light refreshments)
5:30 p.m. - Torchlight Parade down Main Street
6:30 p.m. - Ellington Jazz Program, Hall Memorial Library
7-9 p.m - Live Nativity at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2 Maple Street (hot chocolate and refreshments available)